Category Archives: #nowplaying

Larry Davis

I picked this compilation up a few years back at the Thrift & More Store, located in the median of Pocahontas Trail in New Kent County. The collection is named after the Larry Davis song — a tongue-in-cheek number about how attractive the women in Houston are. Given the events of the last few days, and the harrowing rescue videos coming out of Houston as Harvey continues to cause flooding, it’s tempting to think about the song’s title in another context. I’m not religious, but when I see people with small boats risking their safety to help others, that seems pretty angelic to me.

Davis is also the one who wrote “Texas Flood,” which Stevie Ray Vaughan would go on to cover and even name an album after. It’s an incredibly sad listen right now, but I hope it moves one or two of you to contribute to relief efforts. The Red Cross is where I decided to donate (click here to do so now), though plenty of other organizations could use your help. Consider it your own angelic act in the face of something truly awful.

Larry Davis — “Texas Flood” [YouTube]

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Dharma Bombs

Y’all know about the Carter Family Fold, right? Hiltons, VA? Shows every Saturday evening? Johnny Cash’s rocking chair?

If you’ve been following along with my posts for Virginia’s Travel Blog, you know it’s one of the most sacred musical locations in the commonwealth, given the Carter family’s prominent role in the early days of country music. As it turns out, it’s also the perfect setting for some Appalachian Dixieland.

Richmond’s Dharma Bombs recently collaborated with the folks from Virginia Tourism and Overcoast Music on the above porch-set live session, shot right there on the grounds of the Carter Family’s homestead. Fittingly, they performed “Virginia Swing,” which can be found on the group’s Old Time Romance album from earlier this year.

The studio cut is below — you can snag it via Bandcamp, and in case you hadn’t heard, Bandcamp is donating its profits today to the Transgender Law Center, so don’t be shy about forking over some dough.

Dharma Bombs — “Virginia Swing” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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Marias

I love last tracks on albums. There’s the sense of satisfaction at having consumed something completely, like turning over the back cover of a book you just finished. And while they’re not as crucial or weighty as movie endings, they can be just as revealing. There’s also a unique sense of intimacy to last tracks. Casual listeners may not hear the very end, so it’s like the room gets a little smaller, especially when they’re quieter, more confessional tunes.

That’s how the end of this Marias album feels. I enjoyed all of Peace Sign, but “R U Trying 2 Break My Heart” is a knockout punch. It’s the longest song on the album, and it might be its most pensive, as well, but what really gets me is the chorus. “Are you trying break my heart while the world is falling apart?” it asks, absorbing personal and public devastation into a single desperate plea. Then it exhales: “I guess I’m ready for this to begin. Breathing out while the fire comes in.” The fact that “this” is ambiguous makes the chorus even more enveloping and universal. The whole thing makes me think of old videos of atomic bomb tests, for some reason. Certainly left me feeling leveled.

That’s how you end an album.

Marias — “R U Trying 2 Break My Heart” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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Ian Chang

Been gnawing on a bunch of non-bloggy writing, but I thought I’d share one thing I’ve been playing on repeat while I work — “Romeo,” from Ian Chang’s upcoming album, Spiritual Leader.

I’ve gotten to know Chang’s virtuosic drumming via Landlady and Son Lux, and its hard to overstate how captivating he is in the live setting. He’s a show unto himself, which makes a solo album — especially this solo album — a natural fit.

Chang’s using a type of technology that allows him to express a wide range of sounds with his kit — sensory percussion, it’s called. Two things jump out: 1. He really can be a show unto himself this way, and 2. This opens the door to a whole new way of listening — form, tonality, decision-making… you get to think a little differently about all of it given how the music is being created.

And you get to hear Ian Chang play drums, which is always a gift. “Romeo” is below, and the preorder is here.

Ian Chang — “Romeo” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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Skyway Man

So I’m late to the party here, posting about a show just a few hours before it starts, but this Skyway Man album has my adrenaline racing. I’m on my first listen, and it feels like someone’s slowly reading off winning lottery numbers that keep matching the ones on ticket I’m holding. It’s bonkers… all the sounds I’ve been gravitating toward are here.

A few data points:

  • I picked up a copy of Cosmic American Music at the Numero Group’s pop-up sale at Strange Matter in April.
  • Thanks to an especially fruitful Goodwill haul, I’ve been heavy into gospel the last few weeks, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Billy Preston’s Gospel in My Soul album to early 1980’s Savoy Records stuff.
  • I’m also in the middle of a big William Tyler kick. A BK Music Instagram post prompted me to play Impossible Truth in the recovery room after my son was born a couple weeks back, and miraculously it was still there a couple of days later, along with his earlier Behold the Spirit album.
  • We named our son Ryland, so I’ve been making my way through my father-in-law’s Ry Cooder albums, marveling at how simultaneously timeless and of-their-time they sound, especially Borderline and “Why Don’t You Try Me.”

Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly these obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.

As mad at myself as I am for posting this so late — and as ashamed as I am that I haven’t been listening to James Wallace’s stuff all along — I can’t help thinking that Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye and I met at exactly the right moment. Many, many thanks to Alexandra Spalding for the heads up.

Doors open at Gallery5 tonight at 7. Twain and Big Kitty will be there as well. Click here for more info.

Skyway Man — “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Joan Baez

I don’t get to spin my Bob Dylan records often, but I used his 67th birthday as an excuse to make Blonde on Blonde our pre-dinner music on Wednesday evening. The album’s been kicking around the front of my consciousness since I found out about the Old Crow Medicine Show cover version, which I ended up really enjoying. I love that it’s live — the extra energy keeps it from feeling staid or overly reverential, even though it is faithful.

I haven’t picked that one up yet, but I’ve been listening to another Dylan covers album, one I got when a friend’s neighbor decided to jettison her record collection. It’s called Any Day Now — 4 sides of Joan Baez doing Dylan tunes, including a striking a cappella version of “Tears Of Rage” that I’ve been playing over and over. I’m so used to The Band’s Big Pink cut that other versions are bound to stand out, but there’s something about the way Baez sings it… So intentional, like the lyrics mean something different to her than they might to someone else.

Joan Baez — “Tears Of Rage” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Devon Sproule

Off Your Radar readers might remember I nominated Devon Sproule’s I Love You, Go Easy album for issue #38. There are a bunch of reasons I’m crazy about that album, but here’s one I zoomed in on in my OYR blurb:

Lyrics that are this meticulously constructed shouldn’t flow so naturally, but here, they drift along on the gentle tide of Sproule’s prosaic gift.

I learned just this week that Sproule put out a new album earlier this year called The Gold String, and it’s lovely in all the ways I Love You, Go Easy is, especially when it comes to the way the lyrics flow. In fact, she touches on a similar idea in the title track when she imagines an endless strand that connects everyone and everything. Her description of it is nothing short of elegant, in large part because form and theme are one; she describes this inspiring connectedness using verses that lead into one another and this amazing rolling rhyme scheme that weaves together phrases in ear-pleasing clusters. Her words become the string she’s singing about. It’s really incredible.

If you ask 10 people about how the universe is connected, you’re likely to get 10 fairly different answers, but my answer would probably involve language — maybe not words themselves, but the desire to be understood and to understand. The space between your brain and someone else’s isn’t just space if you’re filling it with communication. It really is a way to make something from nothing. I’m drifting a bit myself here, so I’ll close by saying that for fans of language, Sproule’s writing is a gift, and I’d recommend The Gold String in the strongest terms.

Devon Sproule — “The Gold String” [Spotify/iTunes]

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